Judge Justin Walker moved one step closer to joining the nation’s premier federal appeals court Thursday, as the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced his nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
The vote was 12-10, along partisan lines.
Judge Walker’s nomination has come under fire from Democrats, particularly for how his actions could affect Americans’ health care during the coronavirus outbreak. Sen. Richard Durbin, Illinois Democrat, criticized the judiciary committee for choosing to consider his nomination.
“Justin Walker is in line for this lifetime appointment, lifetime appointment, to the second-highest court in the land for two reasons: He’s a family friend of Sen. [Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell and he’s an outspoken critic of the Affordable Care Act,” Mr. Durbin said at Thursday’s committee meeting. “Justin Walker has made it clear that at any cost he is willing to toe the Republican Party line in opposition to Obamacare.”
During judiciary committee hearings on his nomination, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, quizzed Judge Walker about why the Senate should confirm a nominee who she believed would “take away health care from millions of Americans, including those with preexisting conditions.”
Judge Walker replied that he did not think it was appropriate for a judge to comment on health care policy.
Alliance for Justice, a liberal legal group, said Judge Walker’s confirmation could bring about at least 20 million Americans losing their health care and weakened civil rights protections.
“Justin Walker would take this country in the exact opposite direction of where it needs to go,” Nan Aron, the group’s president, said in a statement. “We need fair-minded judges who will uphold the Constitution, not partisans like Walker who will do the Republicans’ dirty work for them.”
Former Senate Judiciary Committee nominations counsel Mike Davis, who leads the conservative legal group Article III Project, cheered the committee for advancing Judge Walker’s nomination.
“Judge Justin Walker — a young, brilliant, conservative jurist—has proven that he’s ready to protect Americans from politicians who can’t or won’t, like the @louisvillemayor [Mayor Greg Fischer] who threatened to jail Christians who attended drive-up Easter services but permitted drive-up liquor sales,” Mr. Davis tweeted Thursday.
Judge Walker also has been criticized throughout the nomination process for his age and relative inexperience on the federal bench.
Judge Walker was 37 years old at the time of his federal appeals court nomination this year, making him the youngest nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit since the 1980s. He has been a federal judge for less than one year, with the Senate confirming his nomination to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky by a 50-41 vote in October 2019.
Senate Republicans have touted his pedigree.
“I’m very pleased that President Trump reached outside the Beltway-to-New York bubble to elevate a judge who is committed to our Constitution and to be elevated now to the second most important court,” said Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, introducing Judge Walker at his nomination hearing last month. “Judge Walker will be the first judge confirmed to the D.C. Circuit from outside the bubble since Thomas Griffith, the judge he is replacing, was confirmed 15 years ago.”
No date has been set for a full Senate vote on the nomination.